Signs, Symptoms And Treatment Of Heat Stroke In Dogs

by Lorie Huston, DVM 

Heat stroke is a serious and potentially life-threatening situation. It is especially common in dogs that have been left untended in cars We all know it is not safe to leave an animal in a closed car when the outside temperature is extremely warm.

However, even in temperatures as mild as 70-75°F, the temperature inside of a closed car can increase as much as 40° or more in one hour! 

That means the temperature inside the car can increase to 110-115°F even when the temperature outside is mild!

red tongue

Besides the car scenario, there are other situations in which heatstroke becomes more likely for our pets as well.
  • Dogs (or other animals) left outside on hot and/or humid days without the availability of adequate shade and/or water are likely to suffer heat stroke.
  • Animals that are exercised heavily on a hot and/or humid day may also suffer heat stroke.
  • Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds of dogs and cats may be more likely to develop hyperthermia (an elevated temperature) and suffer heat stroke because of their ability to pant effectively is hampered by their anatomy.
  • Obesity can affect an animal’s airways and make panting less effective at dissipating heat for the animal, predisposing the animal to heat stroke.
  • Other diseases that hamper the airway can also alter the effectiveness of the panting mechanism that dogs and cats rely on to dissipate body heat, resulting in heat stroke.
  • Animals exposed to forced heat, such as a hairdryer, may also suffer heat stroke.
Symptoms and Signs of Heat Stroke

Early symptoms seen with heat stroke include restlessness and excessive panting. The respiratory rate and heart rate will increase. Excessive drooling may also occur.

Vomiting and/or diarrhea may occur. Dehydration and depression will occur as the symptoms worsen.

As the situation progresses, the animal’s gums may turn brick red in color or even purple or blue as oxygen saturation declines.

Your dog may have difficulty breathing and may appear to be gasping. He will become weak and may stagger. Seizures may occur and the animal may become totally comatose. Petechial hemorrhages, small red areas that resemble bruising, may appear. As the pet nears death, the temperature may actually decrease to below normal.

A body temperature higher than 105°F is cause for alarm.

It is important to remember that an elevated temperature can have many different causes and heat stroke is only one of those potential causes. However, often there are clues in the environment or the recent history of the pet that easily lead to the probability of a diagnosis of heat stroke. For instance, a dog found locked in a car that has symptoms consistent with heat stroke is likely suffering from heat stroke rather than another disease.

Treatment of Heat Stroke in Dogs

Any dog suffering from heat stroke should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible!

However, measures may be taken to begin cooling the pet before transport. It is important not to lower the body temperature of the dog or cat too much or too quickly. Cool wet towels can be placed around or over the animal. Towels soaked in cool water can also be placed between the legs, both front, and rear. Placing cool water on the ears and paws may help cool the pet also.

Naturally, the pet should be removed from the environment which caused the heat stroke. If possible, direct a fan toward the dog or cat.

Do not use ice or extremely cold water to cool a dog or cat suffering from heat stroke. Doing so may actually make the condition worse.

Though cooling the pet is part of treating for heat stroke, other procedures will also likely be necessary to save the animal’s life and rapid evaluation and treatment at a veterinary facility is usually necessary.

Heatstroke affects all body systems and causes thermal damage to numerous tissues.
  • The kidneys are damaged, leading to acute kidney failure.
  • The gastrointestinal tract is damaged and may lead to bacterial translocation from the intestinal tract into the bloodstream.
  • Damage to the liver and to the heart can occur due to thermal damage.
  • There may be swelling within the brain and infarctions that cause further brain damage.
  • Clotting deficits may occur, leading to bleeding abnormalities.
Treatment for heat stroke will vary depending on the condition of the animal, but intravenous fluid support is usually necessary.

Blood transfusions may be required. Oxygen therapy may be necessary for animals suffering from respiratory depression. Cerebral swelling (swelling within the brain) may require specialized medications, such as mannitol to reduce the swelling. Antibiotics may be necessary if there has been damage to the gastrointestinal tract to combat sepsis caused by bacterial translocation. Other therapies may be required.

Severely affected may not survive despite best attempts at resuscitation.

Preventing Heat Stroke in Dogs

In most cases, heat stroke is preventable by taking some simple precautions.
  • Do not leave animals caged, tied or otherwise confined outside without adequate shade and water. At very high temperature, animals should be moved indoors rather than being kept outside for prolonged periods of time.
  • Do not leave animals in closed compartments exposed to the sun, such as a closed car.
  • Increased caution should be used with animals that are obese, have respiratory difficulties, are geriatric or are otherwise unhealthy.
  • Be aware that some animals will lie in a sunny window long enough to become subject to heat stroke. Restrict access to these areas if necessary by closing blinds or draperies.
  • Provide adequate water for animals that are performing strenuous exercises in warm temperatures. Be aware that animals performing arduous physical activities require more water, sometimes as much as twice the amount or more than animals at rest.

Articles by Dr. Huston:
Lyme Is Lame (Pun Intended)
The Ticking Bomb
Don't Let Heartworm Become A Heartbreak!
Summer Perils: Blue-green Algae
Your Dog And Leptospirosis
Canine Parvovirus
Canine Distemper Virus
Why Is My Dog So Itchy? Top 5 Causes Of Itching In Dogs 
Vaccination Concerns and Potential Side Effects 
Natural Flea Control for Dogs

Related articles:
Hypo- Versus Hyperthermia
Know Your Dog's Enemies: Heat Stroke Is No Light Matter!


  1. Very informative post -- every pet owner should know about heat stroke.

  2. This is a great article for pet owners to read... especially since we are in the middle of summer! I see so many people leaving their pets alone in the car and it is so dangerous. Thank you for sharing this info with everyone!


Post a Comment